UKH

Southern Water deliberate pollution

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In reply to Rich W Parker:

Who though? Ultimately the person at the top is responsible but probably doesn't know its happening. In the water industry there are that many levels of management between the person on the ground with a shovel in their hand to the person at the top of the tree it would be almost impossible to point the finger with any degree of accuracy and the wrong person would probably end up in the clink.

On the flip side though, massive fines take away more operating money, you can bet your life the fine will come from operating money rather than shareholders dividends. 

 Yanis Nayu 09 Jul 2021
In reply to Dax H:

That’s half the reason companies are so complicated and opaque I think - to shirk responsibility and liability in a whole number of areas. 

In reply to Dax H:

> Who though?

Part of the justification for the extraordinary compensation packages top executives receive is supposed to be the enormous responsibilities they shoulder because the buck stops with them. They can't have it both ways.

In reply to Rich W Parker:

> who...?

There will be an operations director, manager etc.. somebody will have told the person on the ground to open a valve. And if they aren't willing, then the ceo for not implementing a credible management chain. 

Post edited at 19:56
In reply to Rich W Parker:

Don’t jail them. A scape goat will be found.

Link environmental responsibility to the ability to pay a dividend. Pollute and you’re banned from from distributing reserves for the next 5 years. 

It would be a much bigger deterrent.

 Philip 09 Jul 2021
In reply to VSisjustascramble:

I looked up their charges. £2/m³. So at £90M for 16-21 GL they are factor of 3 out of pocket. Which is good. The fine makes processing sewage cheaper. Finally.

 Forest Dump 09 Jul 2021
In reply to Philip:

And historically that's been the problem with a lot of environmental prosecution, cheaper to pay the fine than do things properly..

In reply to Philip:

Next week: Southern Water raises all customers bills by £3 a month

 Mark Eddy 09 Jul 2021
In reply to Rich W Parker:

A clear case of privatisation not working. What an utter disgrace. 

1
 Bob Kemp 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Dax H:

I suspect that those at the top knew exactly what was happening. Deliberate underinvestment must have been a decision made at the highest level. 

"“It was known about and permitted at a high level in the company, was brought about deliberately and by a deliberate lack of control and investment and … has caused very considerable environmental damage by the release of raw sewage into coastal waters,” Marshall told Canterbury crown court."

And-

"The company’s lawyers instructed staff not to cooperate, court documents show".

I find it hard to believe that the lawyers were acting outwith the control of senior management. 

"Three members of staff were later convicted of obstructing EA officials during the investigation."

And that senior management were unaware that their staff were being tried.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/09/how-southern-water-sewage-dumping-scandal-unfolded

Post edited at 00:33
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In reply to Luke90:

> They can't have it both ways.

Unfortunately they can. 

In reply to Philip:

> I looked up their charges. £2/m³. So at £90M for 16-21 GL they are factor of 3 out of pocket. Which is good. The fine makes processing sewage cheaper. Finally.

Well that depends, £90M could be a drop in the ocean compared to bringing their treatment plants up to scratch. 

In reply to VSisjustascramble:

> Don’t jail them. A scape goat will be found.

Exactly. A lot of large companies like this have a no blame culture, this means the company never takes the blame when they can pin it on some poor guy. 

> Link environmental responsibility to the ability to pay a dividend. Pollute and you’re banned from from distributing reserves for the next 5 years. 

> It would be a much bigger deterrent.

Great idea as long as they were audited within in an h of their lives, without that they would squirrel the cash away until they could pay it out, they might even spend it with a cash back deal. You charge us 90 miion to fix x y and z over 5 years, at the end you give us back 50 million and pocket the rest. 

 Kean 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Rich W Parker:

The story reminds me of my summer holidays growing up back in the '70s in Dymchurch down on the south coast. There was a prominent outlet slap bang in the middle of the beach. Didn't really have an idea what it was. Turned out it was a sewage outlet. All sorts of stuff would come out that we needed help from our dad to identify. Two in particular I recall where "brown cigars" and "white mice". 

Us kids: "Dad, what are these brown cigars and white mice floating in the sea?"

Dad: "Well, the brown cigars are turds, and the white mice are used tampons." 

Them were the days. 

 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to JoshOvki:

> Next week: Southern Water raises all customers bills by £3 a month

That'll be me then. Maybe I should take advantage of the privatised system and choose another company for my waste water. Oh, hang on... It's a privatised monopoly. How did anyone believe that privatising water companies would benefit anyone other than investors?

 GrahamD 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Kean:

As kids doing dinghy sailing at Saundrsfoot, a race around the "stinky buoy" was the norm. At low spring tide most of the outlet pipe was visible across the beach.

 GrahamD 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Dax H:

> Who though? Ultimately the person at the top is responsible ....

More likely the person at the tap is responsible. 

Sorry, I'm already on my way.

 profitofdoom 10 Jul 2021
In reply to GrahamD:

> More likely the person at the tap is responsible. 

> Sorry, I'm already on my way.

We've already had a "drop in the ocean" on this thread. Let's not make any more waves

 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Rich W Parker:

Should "jail terms" be handed out if it was publically controlled ?

As said above. Such pollution used to be common in the past.

Should "jail terms" be handed out for long term failure of public enforcement ?

The awful flats on the news were managed by Croydon Council.

Everyone is actually privatised.   If you work for a council, you do it primarily for the money. You are incentivised to get promotion, or a better job, or lobby for more money.  Not to make your council efficient.

Privatising is likely to increase pressure to improve efficiency, which is good, unless rules are broken.

Leaders of public bodies generally have even less financial accountability.

17
 mondite 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

> Should "jail terms" be handed out if it was publically controlled ?

Yes

> As said above. Such pollution used to be common in the past.

And then we had laws restricting that pollution.

> Should "jail terms" be handed out for long term failure of public enforcement ?

Depends why really. Given chances are its underresourcing a more aggressive approach to fining and utilisation of those fines would help.

> The awful flats on the news were managed by Croydon Council.

> Everyone is actually privatised.  

If you are making the term meaningless.

> Privatising is likely to increase pressure to improve efficiency, which is good, unless rules are broken.

Wait what? I thought everything was privatised so how can this work?

The privatisation leads to pressures for "efficency" is often trotted out as an article of faith.

Leaving aside it generally shows a poor understanding of large business culture what value though is that "efficency" to the user if the money just goes into the boards pockets rather than having a few extra staff?

As for it only being bad if "rules are broken". Thats a rather weak argument since I could do lots of "efficency" which doesnt result in rules being broken at least when I am in charge. Shame about the person after me who has to deal with the infrastructure which is failing since not maintaining it was "efficency" and it has now hit the point of complete failure.

Likewise I can cut back all the engineering staff to minimal levels. Which is great until an abnormal event hits and the few staff are beyond overworked.

 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

> Privatising is likely to increase pressure to improve efficiency, which is good, unless rules are broken.

Whether it's good or not depends on your definition of efficiency. The fundamental problem with privatising public services is that their idea of efficiency is doing it as cheap as possible. If you define efficient as getting rid of sewage without spending any money then Southern water have been incredibly efficient. 

And of course another important factor in improving efficiency in privatised services is covering up their cheapskate practices and getting away with it. Southern have been good at this for a while, and they would have continued to get away with it if it wasn't for those pesky government funded inspectors.

 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Hooo:

I'm not sure what you are suggesting ? The definition of efficiency is the same whoever runs services.

An acceptable service within the given rules for a reasonable price.

I'm only saying it's a good thing if there is a direct incentive to always be looking to reduce cost.  Rather than disinterest and pass the bill to government.

5
 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to mondite:

> Wait what? I thought everything was privatised so how can this work?

I said everyone was privatised.   That works rather well doesn't it ?

How would you like to be nationalised ?

That would be like being in the army, or a commune, except without any wages. You can't leave, and have to go where, and do whatever, you're told.  But no. You're a private person, able to change jobs as you like, or set up a business yourself. You're a capitalist,  balancing pay against dislike of your job.

THe trouble is we haven't found a good way to scale this that works with large concerns, either public or private.

10
 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Not necessarily. The privatised definition of efficiency is to keep within the rules for the minimum cost. This results in an incentive to externalise costs ( which will still be borne by the taxpayer eventually), to bend the rules to the limit and to extract everything possible from the staff, providing the bare legal minimum of support. It's a recipe for events like this and a miserable society.

The alternative view of efficiency is to provide the best possible service within budget. To achieve as much as possible for the general benefit, which means not externalising costs if possible. And to have the viewpoint that the purpose of an employer is not just to extract maximum benefit at minimum cost from their employees, but to provide a stable job and a living wage.

Free market evangelists will dismiss the second option as socialists stealing their taxes, but in the greater scheme of things an attitude like this leads to a better life for all.

2
 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Hooo:

I don't disagree with you. Of course everything is complicated.  But you seem to be looking for trouble, rather than solutions. Putting forward notions that it should all be done by nice people, with love in their hearts, not by nasty business types.  I'm not being tribal.

2
 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

I'm not looking for trouble, I'm proposing the solution. Privatising public services is a fundamentally flawed idea. It inevitably leads to situations like this incident. This one is only in the news because it was so bad and they got caught. This sort of thing is standard practice. Public services need to be run for the benefit of the users, not for profit. Of course nationalising services isn't an automatic panacea. There are problems with this model too and there needs to be oversight and regulation. But at least it can be made to work. With the privatised system this sort of thing is inevitable.

 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Hooo:

I don't like big business. But public is not better.  Croydon flats, Grenfell flats, maternity hospitals, blood contamination, child abuse in local authority homes, Home office, Met police, South Yorks police.

The problems are the same. The same policing is required.  Ignoring the actual issues and just being convinced it's all down to not following your own politics, doesn't achieve anything.

10
 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

I said that nationalising wasn't a panacea and that it needed regulation. I'm not denying there have been major problems with public owned services. And I'm not saying that private businesses are inherently a problem, there is a vital place for them. But nationalised services can work. Privatised public services will never work to the benefit of everyone. It's not in their remit to do so.

 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Grenfell was caused by a private company selling a product that they knew was dangerous. It's another example of private sector profit seeking causing a major disaster.

1
 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Hooo:

If it had been a privately owned and run block of flats, I am quite certain you would not be defending them.

8
 David Riley 10 Jul 2021
In reply to Hooo:

> Privatised public services will never work to the benefit of everyone.

I'm not interested in promoting privatisation. Just disappointed at the lack of substance on this forum. Everything is blamed on opposition politics. Just an endless chant of mindless insults.

There are plenty of examples of services improving in all respects after being privatised, and no doubt others in the opposite direction.

4
 Hooo 10 Jul 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Why would I blame the block owner? They tried to improve the building by installing a product that they had every reason to believe was safe. I apportion blame where I think it's due, I don't blame private companies for everything.

In reply to Hooo:

So the water industry is a pretty interesting and very highly regulated. It’s far more public sector like than most sectors.

The key point to grasp is that the companies have to submit their plans to Ofwat, which determines how much they invest, how much they charge ect.

They’re then audited and progress is tracked against the agreed plan. Penalties are levied if they miss agreed targets.

The system has its flaws, but because there’s a separation between the companies and Ofwat, plans do get delivered.

If they were nationalised you’d save about c.3% (profit margin), but at the expense of their being political interference in investment plans ect. The case for nationalisation (even if you support that type of thing) is far from clear cut.

In reply to Rich W Parker:

Went to work at southern at the tail end of this. The investigation threw up some pretty disgusting practices, nobody involved faced any real consequences. Lots of people not involved got caught in cost saving redundancies as a result of the fines. 

In reply to Hooo:

You only have to step back and look at some of the wide ranging NHS debacles to realise your argument does not really hold upto scrutiny. 
 
Fortunately an independent judiciary can hold both public and private to account. 

 Tringa 11 Jul 2021
In reply to neilh:

When I started reading the Guardian article I thought the suggestion of a jail sentence was over the top, but as SW seems to have knowingly done this for years and obstructed investigation I think a jail sentence or at least a restriction on dividends, as mentioned above.

I found one sentence interesting, though not surprising -

"Since 2010 water companies have been allowed to self-report pollution incidents." !!!

Was the government in a rosy glow world where private companies are all run by jolly good, honest as the day is long, chaps always tell the truth?

Dave

In reply to Tringa:

I would assume the judge also found that pretty shocking. The judge made it pretty clear what he thought. 

The fine equalled the cost of the savings apparently. I was surprised it was not more.

The board of directors has been cleared out. I would like to know how much more money southern water is spending to stop a recurrence. Any ideas?

In reply to VSisjustascramble:

> If they were nationalised you’d save about c.3% (profit margin), but at the expense of their being political interference in investment plans ect.

My view would be that removing the profit motive doesn't just save you 3% but also reduces the motivation for disgusting behaviour like Southern have just been caught at.

In reply to Luke90:

It’s irrelevant to be honest. 

There are plenty of similar debacles in the NHS for example where there is no profit motive. 

I would be more interested in having a diverse strong board of directors.

Weak management is usually the root cause either in the private or public sector.

2
In reply to Tringa:

> "Since 2010 water companies have been allowed to self-report pollution incidents." !!!

> Was the government in a rosy glow world where private companies are all run by jolly good, honest as the day is long, chaps always tell the truth?

> Dave

I was working in wastewater operations at a water company at that time. There was a clear message from the top of the company that we should be self reporting pollutions, which we did. Interesting to note that we had informal feedback from the EA that it was becoming embarrassing for them, so much was being self reported that it was obvious that they had historically been missing a lot of problems.

Based on my experience deliberate pollution on the scale seen at Southern Water is unusual. Water industry has plenty of problems, but they're reasonably responsible from an environmental point of view

 Dave B 11 Jul 2021
In reply to neilh:

Enough so that our beaches were closed for 5 days recently owing to sewage release.

https://theisleofthanetnews.com/?s=Sewage

Not quite enough? 

 Dave B 11 Jul 2021
In reply to Dave B:

Never said it was not a problem. Judt pointed out that these issues arise in both the public and private sector.  I also said the fine should have been more. So I do not know where you are coming from. 

Post edited at 22:08
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In reply to Rich W Parker:

What terrible journalism, shame on the Guardian. Good journalism is supposed to tell people why. 

Sewage is often discharged raw, usually when there is a downpour and the runoff water can get into sewage and overwhelmed processing capacity, this can happen also when there isn't a downpour and then it's a difficult question as to why it happened

in some cases it's legal, on most cases it's not. It's certainly not only Southern Water. The water companies don't want to break the law and discharge.

This article does little to discuss the National problem and ask why the infrastructure is below standard, or what the water company is doing or what government is doing to direct companies or support them fix it or enforce laws or not.

It's just a horror story based on half the facts with no attempt to answer why we have this terrible problem nationally or how it can be improved. Shallow Tabloid journalism

6
 Maggot 12 Jul 2021
In reply to CantClimbTom:

I think you missed a certain word here, I've made it bold for you.

"For nearly six years Southern Water deliberately poured enormous volumes of untreated sewage into the seas off north Kent and Hampshire to avoid financial penalties and the cost of upgrading and maintaining infrastructure"

Yes,I think lots of us know that these systems have overflow outlets for when they get overwhelmed.

In reply to CantClimbTom:

Mate, they faked compliance sample results using drinking water they tankered in from different sites. They got caught out because they used a tanker that had previously moved sewage sludge so its e.coli numbers were crazy high. All in the name of performance bonuses and ladder climbing in the company...

 Harry Jarvis 12 Jul 2021
In reply to CantClimbTom:

> in some cases it's legal, on most cases it's not. It's certainly not only Southern Water. The water companies don't want to break the law and discharge.

That assertion doesn't appear to be borne out by the judge's statements. It is fairly clear that SW did want to break the law and discharge - they were doing so deliberately and making efforts to prevent the EA bringing them to book. 

 Dave B 12 Jul 2021
In reply to neilh:

My point was simply that while they have not invested enough to prevent a sewage release this year after moderately heavy rain. 5 days we couldn't use the beach. 

On the flip side they say they are investing multi millions. 

In reply to Rich W Parker:

Various comments above about preventing spills to watercourses during rain.  Untreated sewage going to rivers and the sea is obviously both environmentally damaging and unpleasant for anyone who is going swimming. 

First point - this isn't what was happening at Southern Water, they were deliberately dumping sewage because it was cheaper and easier than treating it.  Reporting of the legal case talks about storm tanks. The way these should be used is as a buffer against short spells of rain.  When it rains, the flow into the sewage works becomes too great for the normal treatment process, the excess goes into the storm tanks.  Once they're full, the excess goes (usually) to a river/sea untreated (but with some 'screening' to take out the big bits), but it should be very dilute because of the rain.  Once the weather improves and the flow into the main treatment works drops down, the content of the storm tank should be returned for treatment.  There's various ways this system can be deliberately abused, I haven't seen reporting with enough detail to describe exactly what Southern were doing, but it definitely sounds like the fine was well deserved.

The wider point is about the work that would be needed to stop sewage spilling during rain.  Most of this country's sewers take combined flow i.e. waste from houses and businesses, along with surface water.  During rain, that surface water volume is enormous and sewage works just cannot deal with it all, and there is no realistic way to make them capable of doing so.   The ideal solution to the problem would be to separate rainwater and sewage, but the costs of doing this are huge and would involve enormous disruption.  It's not just digging up roads, it's going into people's gardens and replumbing so that water from roofs etc. goes into a separate system.  More modern houses will have separate drainage for surface water and sewage, but the majority of buildings don't.  Until the problem of the volume of water is dealt with, sewage will continue to spill during heavy rain.

There are things the water companies can and should do  to minimise spills including checking sewers aren't blocked and that pumps all the way through the system are working properly, but these are only mitigations, not cures.  I'm sure the water companies would be happy to implement a full solution i.e. the separation of drainage systems, if they were given the money to do so.  This would be controlled by OFWAT, but ultimately the cost would come back to customers and much as people don't like seeing sewage in rivers, I think they would like the significant increase on their water bills even less.  


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